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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 15 November, 2018
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Parkland students return to school - with €5.7 million in security upgrades

A gunman killed 17 people in the freshman building in February.

Image: Joe Cavaretta

STUDENTS AT MARJORY Stoneman Douglas High School returned to a more secure campus yesterday as they began their first new school year since a gunman killed 17 people in the freshman building. But some say they still won’t feel protected despite $6.5 million (€5.7 million) in security enhancements, including 18 safety monitors, new classroom locks and upgraded video surveillance.

All the students wore lanyards with IDs around their necks as they walked past a heavy police presence, in what has become their new normal. Volunteers greeted them with German shepherds, and a helicopter hovered overhead as a throng of media watched from across the street.

Samantha Deitsch, 15, said she’s grateful for the changes, but “there’s literally no place that I am every day that I feel 100% safe and the thought doesn’t go through my head that someone could come in with a gun”.

Anijah Avera, 16, said she mostly doesn’t think about the shooting except for “a little bit this morning… we have better security now so I feel a little more at ease.”

Three school resource officers, three security specialists and a dozen campus monitors will be on patrol. They’ll be keeping watch at new fences and gates at the beginning and end of the school day, keeping out all but staff and students wearing ID badges.

Visitors will have only one way in, and they’ll be screened through a video intercom system. The district had planned to add metal detectors but reversed course amid concerns over privacy and the impracticality of trying to clear thousands of students before each day’s morning bell.

All classroom doors have new hardware that automatically locks when doors are pulled shut. Witnesses said teacher Scott Beigel and student Joaquin Oliver were fatally shot as they ushered students inside to safety, in part because the old hardware required relocking from the outside.

Some changes are statewide: Florida became the first state to require police or armed guards at all public schools after the shooting — a mandate many districts are struggling to meet . And the state’s new Office of Safe Schools announced Wednesday that in two weeks, a new FortifyFL app, developed with €400,000 in state funding, will enable people to anonymously report suspicious activity in state schools.

At Stoneman Douglas, the tributes to victims have been removed, replaced with a single statue of an eagle hugging a heart. But the freshman building still stands as a solemn reminder of the bloodshed, surrounded by a permanent new fence as prosecutors continue to use the crime scene for their legal case. The classes it once held have been diverted to nearly three dozen new portable classrooms.

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Associated Press

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